Today, I learned something new and astonishing. I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. ad-libbed his “I Have a Dream” speech. That specific phrase, in fact, was not in the textual material to be delivered on the Washington D.C. mall that day in August 1963.
Dr. King read the first nine paragraphs of the speech as they were written. Then, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson – whose performance had preceded Dr. King’s speech – shouted to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”
Clarence B. Jones, one of Dr. King’s legal advisers and speechwriters, stood not far from him on the stage that day. According to Jones, Dr. King paused, acknowledged Jackson and then launched into the magnificent and extemporaneous oration that has come to be most closely associated with Dr. King’s enduring legacy.
Jones recently published a book entitled, Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation. He discussed his experiences as one of Dr. King’s inner circle, as well as his take on issues of our times, in a broadcast aired on NPR’s program, Fresh Air, today.
The official MLK Holiday of 2011 is drawing to a close as this post goes up. Yet formal and informal observances will go on across the country through the week.
You do not need a formal workplace diversity initiative to take advantage of this opportunity: listen to the Jones interview and listen to the speech itself. Note your reactions. Talk about it with colleagues and associates.
It doesn’t matter where you were on that day. It doesn’t even matter if you were born yet. It doesn’t matter how many MLK holidays you’ve seen or celebrated. There is always something new to learn from the wondrous Reverend Dr. King.
As long as the learning continues, the dream lives.
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